Not even Covid-19 could stop the numbers train that is the San Benito High track and field team. Despite the pandemic and the modified prep sports calendar—often forcing athletes to choose one sport in favor of another—the Haybalers haven’t been hit too hard by the virus from a participation standpoint.
That much was evident in an April 29 meet at Christopher High, which included competitors from the host school, Gilroy, Oakwood and Pacific Point. San Benito far outnumbered the other schools’ athletes, a luxury of having an enrollment of 3,000-plus students.
“We are fortunate to still be decently sized, about 95 athletes this year,” Balers coach Ryan Shorey said. “The past few years we’ve been hovering around 200.”
Julia Hicks led a strong San Benito showing with individual victories in the discus throw and shot put. Even though she didn’t get a personal-record (PR) in either event, the savvy senior knows there is plenty of time to do just that before the season ends.
“I’m OK with it,” said Hicks, who has the top mark in the Central Coast Section in the discus at 137 feet, 8 inches, and the No. 2 mark in the shot put at 37-4. “There is always room for improvement, and not every day is going to be your best PR day. You just go out there, have fun, throw, and let your skills and talents take over.”
Hicks has a goal to set the school record in the discus, and would need to throw it a full foot more to break the record. While that sounds like a lot, Hicks said it’s doable if she stays relaxed and loose, especially from a mental standpoint.
“Just going in there and trusting and believing in myself I can do this,” she said. “Taking deep breaths before I throw and just going for it. Sometimes the mental aspect gets the best of me, but I’ve been doing pretty good at it lately. But there’s always room for improvement.”
Both Hicks and fellow senior Frank Hernandez—who won the boys shot put event with a mark of 45-9—credited assistant coach Bob Rawles for helping take their performances to another level in the last couple of years.
“Coach Rawles helped me blossom in my throws,” said Hernandez, who owns the section’s fourth best mark in the shot put. “I’ve had good teammates and coaches help me through my technique and form.”
Hernandez has only been competing in the sport since his sophomore year. Since the 2020 season was cut short a week and a half into the season, this is basically Hernandez’s second full season of competition. He’s made a fast ascent and hopes to hit 50 feet by the end of the season.
“Having a 45 degree angle, pushing myself more through the ring, being at an angle to launch it more,” Hernandez said, when asked what technical improvements he’ll need to make to best his PR. “Pushing it out, switching, reversing. If I build more strength, continue to listen to coach and have a good attitude, I think I’ll get there.”
Another San Benito senior, Ramon Duran, shined in the hurdles events. He took the 110 meter hurdles race in 16.35 seconds and the 300 hurdles event in a PR of 41.72. The latter put him at No. 6 in CCS; he also ranks fourth in the section in the 110 with a lifetime best mark of 16.09.
Duran is the latest Balers’ boys hurdler who ranks among the section’s best. In the 110 race, Duran got off to a nice start and was in command the entire way. However, he clipped two of the last three hurdles, which obviously slowed him down a bit.
“There’s definitely more work to do,” Duran said. “I clipped some of the hurdles with my trail leg, but all in all, I felt pretty good. Once I got going, I kept my arms pretty tight which allowed me to keep my balance.”
Duran was expecting to have a breakout season last year only to have Covid cancel the season just two meets in. He continued to train in the off-season and now believes he can go in the low 15s by season’s end. Speaking of fast, Anthony Mercurio blazed to victory in the 100-meter dash, finishing in a PR of 11.69 seconds.
A playmaking wide receiver on the football team, Mercurio was in control from the start and sprinted out to a sizable lead by 60 meters. Mercurio said using starting blocks for the first time ever in competition accounted for his PR.
“I’ve been working on it in practice everyday, and it’s showing right now,” he said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Mercurio is excited to see how his and the team’s season unfolds, because he feels he has plenty left in the tank to improve upon his most recent PR.
“We’re going to work hard to win league and CCS,” said Mercurio, who is in his first full season of track after his debut season in 2020 got cut short. “I have little experience with track, but it’s turning out pretty good.”
Mercurio’s optimism and carefree attitude was matched by Ellie Miller, who has a PR of 5-2 in the girls high jump, tied for third best in the section. In this five-team meet, Miller won the high jump with a mark of 5-feet while also establishing a PR of 15-6 ¼ to win the long jump. With the high jump being her signature event, Miller knows she’ll need to improve her technique to reach her goal of 5-4.
“I need to improve on my drive phase and stop stuttering when I’m curving,” she said. “Fix the curve, fix the drive. I need to drive more, but it’s hard to think about when you’re up in the air.”
Every time Miller competes in the high jump, she seems to be having the time of her life. The competitors in the field events tend to be a rather tight fraternity compared to the running events, and athletes are often talking to each other in between jumps.
“The high jumpers are super supportive and we all have fun,” Miller said. “I really love the sport and this event.”
On the girls side, Giavanna Felice did the 200-400 double, and looked strong in doing it. She powered her way to victory in the 400 meters in 1:02.39, displaying tremendous strength in the final 150 meters to win going away. Jernae Weekes delivered a powerful performance in winning the 100 in 13.13 while adding a second-place finish in the 200.
On the boys side, Anton Borges won the 800 in 2:19.40, Andrew Speech won the 200 in 23.50, Kaden Peterson took the discus with a throw of 120-7, Zach Sims won the triple jump with a mark of 42 feet and Nathaniel Marquez won the high jump at 5-6.